Sunday, April 15, 2012

From the Archives: Their Last Voyage

In this post, 34SP's archivist Anne Kumer shares some 34th Street-related history.

Everybody is talking about the Titanic right now, and some are even just learning that yes, it DID actually happen.

One of three sister ships -- the other two being the RMS Olympic, (launched in 1910) and the RMS Britannic (launched in 1914) -- the Titanic was the largest passenger ship afloat. At the time of its maiden voyage from Southhampton England to New York City, US on April 10,1912, the RMS Titanic was guaranteed unsinkable.

Titanic launching from Southhampton. Photo: National Geographic
A few days later the ship collided with an iceberg, and on April 15 sank, taking with it 1,517 passengers and crew members. Among those were co-owner of Macy's department stores Isidor Straus, and his wife Ida, as well as John Jacob Astor IV and his pregnant (and much younger) wife Madeleine Talmadge Force Astor.

The "Macy's corner" at 34th Street and Broadway, [1910-1915]. By this time the store and neighborhood were bustling with activity.

When offered a spot in one of the ship's few lifeboats, Ida Straus said something to the effect of this: "We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go." Or maybe this: “I have lived with him for 50 years - I won’t leave him now." She stayed on board with her husband and they perished together. After their deaths, her fidelity and loyalty were celebrated in the press, as well as with several memorials and positive portrayals in plays, music, and movies. (Ha! You thought I was going to link to the James Cameron movie but I didn't!) Below is one of several piano pieces composed in 1912:

Isador and Ida Straus rendered on this commemorative piano piece from 1912. Image: NYPL
Macy's had a plaque made, dedicated, and placed in the store's entrance on 34th Street, just west of Broadway in 1913. Also, three years to the day after the ship sank, a monument was dedicated to the Strauses at Broadway and 106th Street near their former home in New York City, in a small park named after them one year earlier.  It's still there.
The Straus Memorial on its dedication day, April 15, 1915. Photo: Library of Congress

The Straus Memorial on its dedication day, April 15, 1915. Photo: Library of Congress
Designed by Augustus Lukeman, the monument's female figure was created in the likeness of statue model Audrey Munson, also known as "Miss Manhattan," and who deserves her own blog post, maybe with Evelyn Nesbit. (They're classier Lindsay Lohans of the early 1900s, except with possibly more affairs and less cocaine -- or maybe not!)
Audrey Munson with Buzzer the cat. Photo: Library of Congress
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the crash, and the tributes and books are still coming. The National Geographic has never-before seen photos of the shipwreck taken during a 2010 expedition to the wreckage site.
Bad screen shot from this Before and After slideshow. This image shows the Straus suite.
 Other sources:
-Titanic Historical Society
-Titanic Facts
-National Geographic has never-before seen photos of the wreckage. They are stunning.
-Isador Straus obituary.
-Straus Historical Society in Smithtown, New York 
- A nice little Macy's history slide show called Macy's Milestones and the very long, very detailed wikipedia entry on the department store.
-Macy's history on the department store's website
-New York Times